Tampa resident Matthew Heller says after attending a recent rap concert, he found his truck broken into and ransacked. At first, he thought he had been victimized by a gang of street hoodlums, but then he found a handwritten note indicating his vehicle had been violated by none other than the Tampa Police Department and one of its drug sniffing dogs.
“Sir, your car was checked by TPD K-9. The vehicle was searched for marijuana due to a strong odor coming from the passenger side of the vehicle. Any questions call Cpl Fanning,” reads a note written on a “2x3 piece of paper” and left with Heller’s truck.
Incidentally, officers did not find any marijuana or paraphernalia during their search.
The vehicle was completely clean, which has Heller confused how a canine unit managed to detect the scent of marijuana coming from the cab of a truck that did not have any weed in it, much less one that sits at least three-feet off the ground. “It was all sealed up, a parked vehicle in a private parking lot for a hip-hop concert in Ybor,” Heller told WFLA. “There were all kinds of smells, everywhere around here,” adding that he imagines the odor of marijuana was all over the parking lot.
Heller said he would have been more than happy to give the police permission to search his vehicle, but he is upset that they just decided to break in, which caused a considerable amount of damage. “Disgusted, I’ve got my whole life savings in this truck,” said Heller. “It’s like a marketing tool for my business to promote the air horns and everything. The horns weren’t working, all the electronics were ripped out.”
An email from Tampa police indicates that while the force does not make it common practice to search unoccupied vehicles for drugs, they are still well within the scope of the law to implement these methods. "While the search is legal, it is not typical,” said the statement.
However, attorney Bryant Camareno says there was nothing legal about what the Tampa police did to Heller. “It’s an illegal search,” Camareno told WFLA. “Usually if it’s some kind of unoccupied vehicle there has to be some level of exigent circumstance to justify searching a vehicle without a search warrant. Exigent could mean if there is a dead body inside, if there is a screaming child locked in the car, a dog but if the car is unoccupied there is no exigency to justify the search.”
Mike Adams writes for stoners and smut enthusiasts in HIGH TIMES, Playboy’s The Smoking Jacket and Hustler Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @adamssoup and on Facebook/mikeadams73.